Approaching contemporary biomedical science topics in the classroom
Heidelberg, 9 - 11 July 2008
This LearningLABs programme explored cutting-edge biomedical science issues through a variety of activities aimed at increasing high school teachers' confidence to approach these topics in the classroom in an integrated and proactive way.
The theme attracted a very international group of teachers from England, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Romania and Turkey. This was the first time that we hosted a participant from South America - and what a strongly motivated one! Thanks very much, Manuel Sandoval, for having travelled from Peru to take part in this LearningLABs!
Because biomedical science is such a vast topic, we've decided to focus exclusively on genetic disorders caused by single genes (monogenic) and on infectious disease.
We decided to take Cystic Fibrosis (CF) as an example of monogenic disorders. Luckily we could count on EMBL Group Leader Carsten Schultz and on his colleague Marcus Mall from Heidelberg Medical School to give an excellent joint seminar. Marcus went from basic CF historical and clinical aspects to the identification of the responsible gene and to the production and uses of CF animal models. Carsten focused on new therapeutic approaches with particular emphasis on the development of new drugs.
Linked to the CF topic, the participants performed the Nature Dice genetic screening simulation. This classroom hands-on activity developed by the National Centre for Biotechnology Education (NCBE) was instructed by EMBL PhD students Ann-Marie Gynn and Corinne Kox and by Educations Officers Alexandra Manaia and Rossana De Lorenzi.
Still within the "monogenic disorders chapter", we chose Huntington Disease (HD) as a second example. We were very happy that Chiara Zuccatto, working in one of the leading laboratories doing research on HD based in Milan, The Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurological Disease, accepted to come to Heidelberg to talk to the LearningLABs participants. Chiara gave a wonderfully complete HD seminar covering everything that "you would like to learn about HD but that you didn't dare to ask". Supervised by Thomas Wendt, the teachers performed an interesting simulation of HD diagnosis, a PCR-based activity developed by Explo-Heidelberg.
For the group of participants to grasp the importance of developing large-scale tools usable in biomedical research and diagnosis, they were introduced to Anastasios Koutsos'/ELLS "bestseller" - The DNA Virtual DNA Microarray Game, which is aAlways successful in transmitting the concepts underlying microarray technology and illustrating its applications!
To make teachers realize the great impact of cutting-edge biomedical issues in society and the controversies that can be generated, they had the opportunity to play the DECIDE card games (2 groups playing the Neurological disease game; 2 groups playing the AIDS game).
EMBL PhD students Agnieszka Zdanowicz, Aynur Kaya, Lucia Kayserova and Education Officer Alexandra Manaia joined to play the games with the teachers. The weather was sunny and we could sit outside around the EMBL double helix square, the discussion flowed and the debate was so intense that we almost skipped the lunch break! EMBL PhD student Rayeka Aiyar gave an impressive seminar entitled "Medicine of the Future- Personalized Medicine" to close the "diseases session" which generated a lively debate! Rayeka took her commitment to the LearningLABs very seriously and prepared a handout that will certainly be very useful to the teachers.
One of the participants, Rashpal Chana, is based at the West Midlands Science Learning Centre (SLC) (Keele University, UK). He takes the lead regionally in developing post-16 science education and training work with the Learning and Skills Development Agency to promote the Standards Unit science coaching programme. Rashpal kindly agreed to tell the participants about the SLC network. Being a very experienced and talented educator, he has developed many educational materials in various formats. He presented a few of his "greatest hits" and explained how teachers could have access to these materials.
As in previous LearningLABs, the teachers were introduced to the Science in School journal. Assistant Editor Marlene Rau presented an overview of the journal's content and gave hints on how teachers can get involved.
We would also like to acknowledge the participation of EMBL Alumna Dr. Teresa Alonso, based at the Instituto de Biologia y Genetica Molecular in Valladolid, who joined the LearningLABs as an observer, in view of organising similar training activities aimed at high school teachers in Spain.
Many thanks to all scientific contributors! Thanks so much to a wonderful group of high school teachers - we'll keep in touch and hope to meet you again at EMBL!